Latest figures compiled by the AFL-CIO continue to provide evidence that the American workplace, in many instances, is an unsafe place. Particularly significant is the fact that, in a very large number of cases, workplace fatalities are the result of company neglect, particularly in non-union shops where there is no one to push for needed safety precautions.
Another major factor is the weakening of safety regulations, the reduction of the budget and staff at the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, the federal body that is charged with making and enforcing safety rules, and the meager penalties doled out to companies that are found to violate the rules.
The shocking figures below list only work-related fatalities, not the vastly higher number of serious injuries on the job. They are for the year 2020, the last year for which the AFL-CIO completed a tally of job related deaths in the United States.
Number of workers killed on the job: 4,764.
Number of workers killed each day: 350
Estimated number of workers who died from occupational diseases: 120,000.
Number of worker deaths caused by workplace violence: 765.
Also, for earlier information on workplace deaths and injuries including descriptions of numerous incidents, see Confined Space – Weekly Toll: The Last Shift, 1/17.
The Denver Post reports (6/2) that Colorado state regulators has found Southwest Airlines in systemic violation of dozens of state labor laws including paid sick leave for workers with Covid. Under Colorado’s Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, employers are required to provide paid leave for workers with Covid-19 illnesses and quarantines, or other injuries or appointments. Southwest faces $1.3 million in fines for these violations. The airline has responded by bringing a federal suit claiming that the state has no right to impose these restrictions on its business operations.
Women are now the backbone of the current resurgence of union organizing, reports USA Today (6/7) ”The vast majority of those who lost their jobs in the pandemic were women,” it writes. “And now the vast majority of those organizing their workplaces are women.”
The latest retail establishment to see union activity is a Trader Joe’s market in western Massachusetts. Workers at the Trader Joe’s store in Hadley, Mass. have filed for a union election to represent the store’s 85 employees, the first attempt to unionize a workplace in a chain that has some 500 locations and 50,000 employees nationwide. According to The New York Times (6/8) the Hadley workers have formed an independent union, Trader Joe’s United, rather than affiliate with a national labor organization.
A call to reevaluate the existing labor laws and employers reaction to the current labor upsurge is the subject of a new report by the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (6/8). The report finds that “American workers are taking actions through union organizing, strikes, and other forms of collective action to address their pent-up demand for achieving a stronger voice and representation at work. But their actions are making clear to the American public the obstacles workers face in forming unions under the election procedures provided in current U.S. labor law.”
The research faculty at the University of Washington’s three campuses have voted, by a margin of 606 to 104, to unionize, reports Portside (6/10). The union, Researchers United, will become part of UAW Local 4121 and will represent 1,450 employees of the university.The new wave of university unionization now counts some 100,000 academic employees at over 40 universities and colleges across the country. (Pvortside, 6/13)
The moves at Starbucks to fire and harass employees who support the union’s organizing drives, sporadic at first, has now moved into high gear in Colorado, according to a report by Judith Kohler in the Denver Post (6/16). As workers at the store in the Cherry Creek shopping district became the seventh in the state to vote for a union, five people from stores across the state were fired or disciplined for union activities, said the union, Workers United. Since firing a worker for union activities is illegal under the labor laws, the company always creates a pretext. A worker at a Starbucks store in Denver, for example, dropped some food on the counter before putting it in a bag and was fired three weeks later for what Starbucks says was an infraction. With labor laws laxly enforced by the NLRB and the courts since the days of Ronald Reagan, the companies have largely been getting away with it. But the labor friendly Biden administration has appointed NLRB members more friendly to union organizing and companies are now relying on the courts and Republican-appointed conservative judges for favorable rulings. Often the companies simply offer motions for delays so that workers, facing food, housing and financial insecurity, simply move on to other jobs. Workers United now says that some 200 complaints have been filed across the country as more Starbucks stores have voted to unionize.
As of late May, the latest count in the drive to unionize Starbucks is 79 stores where the union won the election and only nine where they lost it. Now, at one of those nine locations, at Camp Road in Hamburg, NY, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, has recommended that Starbucks be ordered to bargain with the union, citing a blizzard of labor law violations by the company to intimidate workers at the store to vote no. Among those violations cited was the firing of pro-union workers, disciplining and spying on others, and closing stores and changing work policies where they feared the union was winning. The NLRB official, Linda Leslie, made the rare request that the company be compelled to bargain rather than simply recommending a new election. It is an indication of the extent of illegal tactics Starbucks used and the lack of confidence that it will refrain from doing it again.
The Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters is betting on the jobs that will be created by the transition to renewable energy. In February, they purchased a diving school near Philadelphia, where their members – carpenters, millwrights, and piledrivers – are scheduled for training to work underwater doing welding and other skills needed for the construction of offshore wind turbines. The union is anticipating the creation of millions of high-paying union jobs that will be added to the economy by the deployment of clean energy facilities to confront climate change.
Staff members of the U.S. House of Representatives are one step closer to gaining union representation after the house, on a party-line vote with Republicans voting no, approved the measure to grant them the right to unionize. The Senate does not have to approve the measure.